Marshall V. King
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A lot of people went out of their way to thank Jason Oswald last week.
Instead of telling him how to run Constant Spring, 219 S. Main St., Goshen, they were thanking him for doing so the last seven years.
As of today, June 17, he's not the owner of the bar he started. Aaron Nafziger bought it and will officially begin running it after a week of learning the basics last week. They announced the change last Monday.
Oswald opened the bar in 2006 after renovating and even making the bar out of cement.
Change makes people anxious. And people are invested in this place, more than a lot of other places I've seen. From the beginning, people told Jason what they thought about what should happen at the Spring.
This week, they were telling Nafziger, a 26-year-old who just quit his job as a financial planner.
“Everybody's got a lot of great ideas,” he said Thursday, noting that he's heard people want nachos.
He said he doesn't plan to change much. He loves the Spring and doesn't want to mess with it much. He didn't want to open a new place. He wanted to own the Spring with its vibe. He approached Oswald about purchasing it and 1 1/2 months later, they had a deal.
“It's not broken. I can say that,” he said.
Andy Wesdorp, who had a Jimmy John's location, told him, “Do it your way.”
Oswald did that and became successful.
Constant Spring broke new ground in a number of ways in Elkhart County.
Ÿ It opened as a non-smoking bar, the first in Elkhart County. Oswald did it because he didn't have money for the smoke-eating machines, but it turned out to be a key in getting people who didn't usually go to bars to darken the door and become regulars.
Ÿ It was one of the first bars to use and promote local and organic food throughout its menu. Few restaurants still do it as much as the Spring.
Ÿ It stocked and promoted craft beer before most others did in Elkhart County. That attracted beer geeks from the beginning and turned others into being them.
Ÿ It was a key part of Goshen's progression into hipness. The Electric Brew really started that in the mid-1990s, but the Spring was key as First Fridays started and as other businesses came to Main Street. Since the Spring opened, so has Kelly Jae's Cafe and Venturi.
Ÿ It was the first independent bar I know of to have a trivia night. Jeremy Bernstein suggested having a trivia night and if you've been at the Spring on Tuesdays after 8 p.m., you'd know how successful it's become. Buffalo Wild Wings let customers play trivia before that, but since that, other places have added trivia nights too.
But Oswald wasn't only first on some of these things, he adapted. He stopped bringing in as many bands because his customers didn't want them. He changed the kitchen so that it could have a bigger menu. He got more personable with customers and I'll guarantee he has a ton more friends than he had seven years ago. I'm proud to be one of them.
His mother is proud of what he did too. Myra Oswald watched how hard he worked over the last seven years. She's still amazed that a bar in Goshen named for a neighborhood in which they lived in Kingston, Jamaica, has done so well.
She was a regular, but Oswald charged her for drinks and dinner the way he did others. “He didn't give me anything,” she said. “And I give really good tips.”
He did buy her dinner Wednesday, she said.
Nafziger's mother Laurie Nafziger is already a regular at the Spring. “I'm thrilled,” she said of Aaron buying it. “I've loved the place for years now.”
Aaron's father Roger said, “I'm not sure Aaron is the first Mennonite to own a bar, but I am glad my 95-year-old mother died a few weeks before it happened.”
And Laurie said she plans to keep paying for her meals and drinks. “I'll always pay. I know how much debt he has,” she said.
Nafziger uses the word “awesome” a lot when he talks about taking over the bar and how Oswald has both created and handed it over.
He's a night owl who's passionate about food, drink and good experiences. He's new to the restaurant business and managing a staff, but said “It's going to be my baby.”
Oswald said he doesn't know what he'll do next other than travel. He told the Goshen News he plans to take a nap and mow his lawn.
This week, as people expressed dismay, he cracked jokes. “I'm excited. It'll be fine. Stuff like that,” he said.
Nafziger takes over a place people love and feel invested in. He and his wife, Kendra, want this place to succeed. After seven years, it's an institution. Years from now, people will continue to thank Oswald for what he did.
And I think Nafziger will probably do just fine. Keeping good staff and learning the business will challenge him. And the customers will be glad to give him advice as they continue to support the business.